Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Springtime Family Fun at Sunshine Village

When many vacationers book spring break escapes to beach resorts, those of us who feel as if we have missed out on winter are hankering to hit the slopes. With nary a snowflake to be found near New York City, mountain resorts out west still have plenty of snow come mid-April. Last April, my family visited the Canadian Rockies to enjoy the late-season slopes.

Sunshine Village in the Canadian Rockies 
The bonuses of spring skiing in the Canadian Rockies are plentiful. Beyond the cheap airfare and hotel rates, there is ample slope-side lodging and no crowds. Hop an early flight to Calgary, and you can be stepping into your bindings that afternoon at Sunshine Village resort, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Banff.  
In April, we could stretch out and not fight the crowds.

Nestled high in the mountains along the British Columbia border, Sunshine Village offers great late-season adventures. The parking lot is a gondola ride away from the slopes, and skiers can either ski out or ride the gondola back to their cars. 

Sunshine Village is really three mountains in one. The Goat's Eye peak lift serves some gnarly double-black-diamond chutes and crags that are a short hike from the lift. It's unlikely these will be open in late spring. Meanwhile, the upper face looks like a bulbous racecourse, so still lots of fun for those who enjoy a steep groomer. Down below are gentler blue and green slopes that lead down to the gondola mid-station.
Sunshine's Lookout Mountain has the famed Delirium Dive zone, which is a short hike from the top of the Great Divide Express Quad. Again, this area will most likely be closed in spring conditions. But there are also plenty of steep, bumpy runs down from the peak, which tops out at 8,954 feet. On the other side of Lookout Mountain, the runs under the Tee Pee bubble quad are great in spring conditions because they are protected from the fierce wind that can blow at the top, so the springtime snow stays a bit softer among the tree. 

Still, we found some bare spots, but that's to be expected.

Across the valley, the lower Mount Standish has great intermediate and beginner slopes intermingled with steep faces, so families can head down together, split up midway down the mountain, and meet up again at the bottom of the Standish Express Quad. And the WaWa Quad has nicely groomed blue runs, some fun glades and access to lower out-of-bounds steeps.

Ski and Stay
 Staying at Sunshine Village is a lot of fun. Visitors park at the bottom of a long gondola and ride up to the lift-side hotel. Check in and hit the slopes right away! Porters bring up the luggage on the gondola, so everything is waiting for you in your room at the end of the day.  

Ski in/ski out doesn't get any closer than this.
Our room was literally steps away from the lifts. We kept our skis on the patio although ski storage was just one flight below us. It was so easy to  pop in to use the bathroom or switch out wet mittens without delay.  

Since there isn't a town at the bottom of the lifts, hotel staff run evening activities such as tobogganing and scavenger hunts. The kids were a little young for the hot tub, and there isn't a pool, but we found a pool table in the basement.


Snow School
Lessons at Sunshine Village at this time of year were easy to book at the last minute. Our kids had either one other student with them, or they got a private lesson for the price of a group. Always a plus! The only downside to the ski school was that Ellery was only 5 years old, so she had to go to the day care center for her lesson. She was not happy about this, and the center is a concrete block of a building down past all of the lifts. It was quite a hike back up the hill, especially for a little kid with tired legs. She did enjoy her private "group" lessons, however. Cyane, who was 7 years old, had one other student in her snowboarding class, and we didn't have to hike to the meeting place. 

Upcoming Events
Check out the upcoming April events, including ski church and Easter service, girls free ride day, Toyota free ride day, bonfires and Coors Light concerts, the Holy Bowly and much more.  ShredAbility in Aid of Rocky Mountain Adaptive is scheduled for April 8th. Sign up for a treasure hunt with your friends and support the cause. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Little Kids, Big Mountains

You don't have to give up the big mountain experience just because you have little kids. 

My family ate lunch today at the summit of Kicking Horse Resort. Clad in our ski and snowboard gear, my two young daughters, my husband and I rode the gondola to the top, and dined at some 8,000 feet up. The view is 360 degrees of spectacularly snowy high cliffs and crags lining valleys that extend for miles.  Best of all, the experience wasn't lost on the kids.

Photo: Family Snow Time!
Kids at Kicking Horse
There's no doubt that Kicking Horse has some of the steepest terrain in the Rockies, Canadian or American. The epic double black diamonds draw mostly male skiers and boarders who hike for their runs. So, I was surprised to see how well the resort caters to families with kids.

Kids can take lessons at all levels from the ski and snowboard school. A mid-mountain family zone gives youngsters a place to have fun without speeding experts flying past. Plus, the resort offers lower-mountain-only tickets for lifts that go as high as the mid-station, where there are still plenty of options for all levels.

Photo: Family Snow Time1
The plan for our afternoon was to head down the only green beginner run from the top. But as clouds rolled in, the route was closed due to zero visibility. Our Plan B was to take the gondola back to the base instead of traversing the narrow cat track with a beginner snowboarder. As lunch wrapped up, the clouds blew past the peaks, and we headed for the cat track. Granted a flat traverse run isn't ideal for snowboarders, but there were also intermittent groomed green and blue runs that kept the kids excited to get around the next corner.

Big Bumpy Bowls
When there is plenty of soft, light powder, even the gnarliest moguls become friendly. For a kid on a 110-cm snowboard, those bumps are rolling hills. It seems counter-intuitive, but taken one at a time, the snowy mounds make a steep slope less intimidating.

Photo: Family Snow Time!
The Paradise Bowl at Lake Louise was a great place to introduce Cyane to what a bowl is. She made her way down by choosing her own path and reading the slope.

Upsides and Downsides
There are definitely pluses and minuses to the big mountain experience with kids. Firstly, the run are long. So if kids are cold or tired, this can be challenging for everyone involved. Know where the mid-mountain lodge is and bring toe warmers and snacks.

On the plus side, at a big mountain, you will likely spend more time on the slopes than waiting in line. We had only one 10-min wait at the base of Lake Louise. Once most folks headed to the upper mountain and back bowls, the lines disappeared. Then, the playground of pistes was ours to explore!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Poconos smackdown: Camelback or Shawnee for Learning?

Recently I took my two daughters snowboarding, one day at Shawnee and one day at Camelback. This was my first time at both mountains. Here's how they compare...

Getting there
Shawnee and Camelback are both near the NJ/PA border via Rt. 80. From NJ, Camelback is about 20 minutes further.

Does size matter?
Shawnee trail map

Camelback trail map
When it comes to ski/board hills, the size of the mountain definitely matters. That said, for a beginner snowboarder, smaller Shawnee mountain was the perfect size. Ellery easily moved from the bunny hill to the green runs from the top of Shawnee, and she even tackled a blue run by the end of the day. Because the runs were short, they didn't overwhelm her little legs.  Meanwhile, her more experienced older sister had some fun once we moved to the longer slopes since she was bored on the bunny hill.

Camelback is a bigger mountain than Shawnee, and the green runs from the top are longer. This is great for a kid who is ready for more of a challenge, except for the fact that the green runs were pretty flat -- frustrating on snowboard, as we are discovering. Due to very challenging snow (if you can call it snow), the lower green chairlift run was just right for a wee one.

Meanwhile, the blue runs and terrain park on the far left at Camelback were great for Cyane, who is exploring new types of terrain. Nothing was too steep, and there were plenty of trail choices. Best of all, the crowds stayed on the other side of the mountain because the trek to the far lifts was kind of a drag on a snowboard.

Conditions change from day to day, and that is part of the challenge of learning to master the slopes. Shawnee had thin cover on top of hard pack and ice. As long as edges stuck, there was nothing to knock over a little kid (although some out-of-control crazies came close).

Camelback was covered in fabricated snow that was like deep, heavy sand. While actual camels thrive in those conditions, small snowboarders riding 90-cm boards are pretty unhappy. Scratch that... VERY unhappy. The heavy snow piled up on Ellery's board, stopping it and making her face plant. Grains of ice filled her mittens, and it took an elaborate two-layer system using back-up mittens to keep her wrists and hands dry and warm. You know it's bad when your little one says, "Mommy, I like the ice better." Cyane, who outweighs her sister by 20 pounds and rides a 110-cm board, had an easier time in the deep dunes of sand snow, but she struggled in places, too.

At these two mountains, the farther away from the lodge we got, the more open space we had. You just have to be willing to schlep to the distant lifts. Both mountains were crowded, especially on the beginner hills. Later in the day and at lunchtime, the crowds thinned.

Crowds are fine as long as skiers and riders know the rules of the slopes: uphill skiers must avoid downhill skiers and skiers must stay in control... that sort of stuff. Ski areas should also figure out better ways to funnel those coming from the advanced slopes away from the beginner slopes rather than onto them.

 If you have been to either of these mountains, please share your experience below!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Adventures in Shredding Paradigms

PART 2: What does 'adventure' mean to you?
It's the sort of question that gets the gears clinking in the brain and the blood pumping through the veins a wee bit. This question was also the raison d'etre of the SHE VENTURES event in New York last fall.

In part two of this series, in which I feature each speaker from SHE VENTURES NYC in a separate post, I shine the spotlight on Jen Gurecki, a positive driving force behind SHE VENTURES, and social change for women.

Gurecki, the recent founder of a women-run ski and snowboard company called Coalition Snow, got involved with SHE VENTURES when founder Georgina Miranda asked her to help coordinate the series.  "I think women are interested in hearing stories by other women that are perceived as doing things that are difficult, like starting a business or doing epic outdoor adventures," says Gurecki. Each SHE VENTURES program raises awareness about women's issues, while also raising funds for charitable organizations. The New York City event supported the International Medical Corps.  

Courtesy of Coalition Snow
"There is a level of camaraderie that women crave," Gurecki explains. "That might lead to helping to raise funds for a nonprofit or supporting women speakers and leaders. And maybe they'll make some good connections at the same time. It’s a recipe for success."

Making Fresh Tracks
One could argue that successful recipes have a variety of components that work together harmoniously to create something awesome. According to Gurecki, most current recipes for making women's skis are not successful. As she describes it, "Women’s skis have always been watered down and are sub-optimal in comparison to men’s. We didn’t make up the phrase “shrink it and pink it.” That was the go-to for women’s ski design."

So on a backcountry ski trip, Gurecki and friends were talking about the evolving state of women's involvement in the snow sports industry. "Professional female athletes were becoming more outspoken and publicly demanding more respect. That was fascinating to me," says Gurecki, who thought it would be an interesting time to shift the perspective of women skiers and snowboarders... and ski and snowboard makers.

The idea stuck. After doing some research and designing in 2013, Gurecki and shredding colleague Meghan Kelly toted ski and board prototypes to the Lewis Glacier, located some 16,355 feet up on Africa's Mt. Kenya. There, they cut fresh tracks, but not just in the snow. This trip broke new ground for women in snow sports.   

Courtesy of Coalition Snow
Breaking new ground seems to be something that Gurecki does. Through the Lewis Glacier trip, Gurecki aimed to raise awareness about how climate change is affecting water resources in rural Kenya.

The trip also raised $16,355 to support Zawadisha, a not-for-profit that Gurecki founded in 2013 to provide micro-loans to rural Kenyan women whose lives are directly affected by a changing climate. Zawadisha also provides educational programs and support groups among local villages to help improve women's daily lives and livelihoods. You might say that empowering women is Gurecki's thing. Check out her TED talk called, “Rethinking the Paradigm of Poverty.”

Coalition Building
Coalescing, according to Merriam-Webster, is the act of uniting or joining together into one body or product. Started in 2014, Coalition Snow is doing just that. After the Lewis Glacier trip, Gurecki gathered women skiers and boarders to work together to create products that are not watered-down versions of what are designed for men. As Coalition Snow advertises,
"We make women's skis and snowboards that don't suck."

Courtesy of Coalition Snow
Coalition Snow is a company run by female powderhounds, so there isn’t a gap between the design and the end users. While there are many emerging brands for women, it appears that those companies are run by men. "When we came up with the name Coalition, I had this image of women side by side, supporting and moving each other forward," says Gurecki. "When you support Coalition Snow, you are supporting women in business. You are supporting a company that is creating opportunities for women in a male-dominated industry."

More than a Hashtag
During her SHE VENTURES talk, Gurecki posed the following question: "Do we as women own and benefit from the exploding hashtags of the women phenomenon that is sweeping the outdoor industry?" 

As she rides the highs and lows of building a company, she challenged women to differentiate between "likes" and real change for women. Gurecki's "She" adventures are putting ideas into action on the ground in Kenya, on the slopes and in the boardroom (literally). She wrapped up her talk with a kick in the pants, saying,  "I want to be more than just a hashtag... do you?"

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Join the World's Largest Group Lesson

It sounds crazy, but it's true! On January 6th, 2017, you can help set a new world record for the Largest Ski and Snowboard Group Lesson.  

Photo courtesy of PSIA-AASI
Skiers and boarders in the US and Canada are welcome to participate. All levels are welcome to take part in what is bound to be a fun day to make history! Quite a few eastern mountains are hosting, and you can find one close to you with this list and interactive map of US locations. The Canadian Ski Council has a list of Canadian areas that are joining in.
The organizers tried this last year, but evidently they didn't have sufficient proof of the 6,000 or so students who took part. So, they have called for an official do-over.

 All lessons will take place simultaneously in seven different time zones:
9 am Alaska time
10 am Pacific time
11 am Mountain time
12 noon Central time
1 pm Eastern time
2 pm Atlantic time 
2:30 Newfoundland time

This colossal event is being coordinated by the Learn to Ski and Snowboard Initiative, the National Ski Areas Association, Professional Ski Instructors of America, SnowSports Industries America and SNOW Operating.